This is a guest blog post written by Ilana, a physical therapist employed at Fun and Function, that talks about sensory diets.
“Tommy! Stop jumping on the couch!” “George, Sit up!” “Come on, Suzie! We’re going to be late!” It seems like most parents are forever battling their children’s sensory-motor system, the system that perceives sensory information and responds to it, sometimes appropriately and sometimes not. A sensory diet can impact this system in a positive way, making day to day routines run smoothly.
What exactly is a sensory diet? It’s a diet for your sensory system, the system that impacts the motor and behavioral system depending on how the incoming sensory information is perceived and organized. Your sensory system is comprised of visual, auditory, olfactory, taste, touch as well as proprioception and vestibular information. We all have sensory needs and even if you’re not aware, you probably have your own sensory diet.
A sensory diet is just like it sounds… a diet for your sensory system.
There really is not one diet that will meet everyone’s sensory needs, but at Fun and Function we like to provide solutions for your sensory needs. In doing so, we have also come to understand our own sensory needs. That means work is fun, and we turn that fun into solutions.
First, we need to understand what type of sensory orientation we have. So, we’ve placed these systems into three categories, but, yes, you may overlap a bit from one to the other. For example, you may find yourself a visual sensory over responder, preferring softer sights and avoiding bright lights. Yet, you may crave deep pressure and when it comes to touch find yourself as a sensory seeker. That is fine. What’s most important is to get to understand your owns sensory needs so you can better understand those of your child as well.
These are individuals who over respond to stimuli. Things seem too loud, too hard, too heavy, too sticky, too wet and, well, just too much! Sensory Over Responders do not like to get messy. They avoid noisy, public places. A fireworks display can send them running for cover. So, what is the benefit of being over responsive? These individuals are generally organized, on time and on task. Strategies for sensory over responders should help to calm and reassure.
- Providing a quiet environment (tent, cave, tunnel, closet, etc.)
- Use earmuffs or earplugs
- Give plenty of notice when transitioning so as not to alarm them
- Provide soft materials to calm (pillows, beanbag chair filled with foam, stuffed animals, weighted blankets)
- Use gentle music in the background and wind instruments to encourage deep breathing
- Encourage bubble blowing
- Place lava lamp, bubble tube or calming lights in their environment and cover or remove bright lighting
- Encourage art activities that are calming like drawing, painting and weaving
- Try a massage (deep pressure), pressure vest or clothing, rocking or deep breathing to calm
- Aromatherapy for relaxing
- Stories or books that reassure
- Play non competitive games like catch with scarves, parachute play or group games
- Discuss tools that make them feel safe
- Use deep pressure or weight to calm as well as calming swings
- Exercise with stretching for calming. Yoga works well as does dance, gymnastics and swimming.
These are individuals who under respond to stimuli. They don’t hear their name when you call them. They lose their lunch, backpack, and keys. They drop things. They don’t sit up at the table. They slouch. They fall down. They forget and they are disorganized. Sensory Under Responders are often lost in a big crowd of kids. They don’t raise their hand in class and often “fall between the cracks.” What is the benefit of being a sensory under responder? These individuals are generally relaxed and don’t over react under pressure. Strategies should help organize and alert.
- Provide lists, visual cues and visual reminders
- Give notice when transitioning so as to give them time to get ready
- Provide seating and supports that encourage an alert posture (wedges, firm seats, back supports)
- Use a metronomes and timers to keep alert and organized
- Provide an organizer
- Use aromatherapy for alerting
- Encourage tasks that require hand-eye coordination
- Try drumming or guitar for music and to encourage rhythm
- Try art activities that use large muscle groups like painting, cutting and building
- Set up obstacle courses to encourage coordination and motor planning
- Work on balance skills using therapy balls, balance boards, climbing ladders or active swings
- Work on strengthening skills with weights, resistance bands or medicine balls and putty
- Stretch muscles to alert
- Karate works well as do sports like rock climbing, hiking and biking
These individuals are constantly touching, pushing, grabbing, shouting, jumping, biting and on the move. These children get in trouble a lot because they don’t know how to use their energy appropriately. The love recess and competition. What are the benefits of being a sensory seeker? These individuals tend to be alert, on and never tired. They are also highly creative. Strategies should re-direct their high energies into more purposeful activities.
- Provide clear boundaries, rules and directions
- Give them notice when transitioning so as to give time to calm down and orient
- Provide seating and supports that allow movement without distraction (wiggle cushion, ball chair, rocking board)
- Use timers as warnings, boundaries or guidelines
- Try pressure or weighted vests for calming
- Use chewing, deep pressure or heavy hand work to filter excessive movement
- Use heavy balls or heavy work tasks to organize their muscles and movements
- Set up obstacle courses to encourage coordination and motor planning
- Use eye hand coordination to engage their minds with their bodies
- Provide jumping and running outlets with directions as to when its appropriate
- Encourage deep breathing with wind instruments, bubble blowing, yoga or singing
- Use art activities that require a lot of heavy work: clay, sculpting, wood working
- Do daily stretching for calming
- Productive exercises include rock climbing, biking, hiking, karate, swimming, triathalon and gymnastics
Watch yourself and your family members throughout the day. Your sensory system can change from morning until evening. Try some of the strategies that work for you and help your kids to come up with their own list (stretch in the morning, swing before school, cuddle after school, etc).About Ilana:
Ilana is a physical therapist. She is also employed at Fun and Function and Function as the creative director, product developer, writer and blogger. She is an author and the owner of Dunwoody Physical Therapy. She has worked in the special needs industry for 20 years writing, assembling catalogs and coming up with creative solutions for individuals all abilities. She lives in Dunwoody, Georgia with her husband, two younger children and her pet dachshund. When not writing, creating, treating or problem solving she loves to hike, bike and tap dance!